lunes, 17 de junio de 2013

Snake Charmer

Yes, I have donned yet another hat, or should we say turban?  The turban of a snake charmer...

O and I were taking Cookie the dog for a walk yesterday evening when we heard a neighbor's voice over a wall:

"Sir, could you please help us?"  She was standing on her front stoop with two small children, a girl and a boy.

O replied, "Sure, what's the problem?"

"There's a snake on our front patio," she pointed.

And, knowing my husband, I chimed in, "In that case, I can help you."  (O later told my mother on the phone that he couldn't possibly have helped since he was holding onto the dog's leash - yeah right.)

Apparently, they had been throwing rocks at a 3-foot-long snake all afternoon to try to get it to leave their sun-warmed stonework garden.  There was a metal rod in the yard, and by scraping it along the patio, I was able to coax it out of the stone wall, down the walkway and out the gate.  Her 6-year-old then presented me with a sharp-edged slate rock "in case I wanted to kill it".  Now, why on Earth would I want to do a thing like that?  I just stomped along behind it, and it slithered across the road and into the fields.  But, I got the feeling that this new neighbor of mine thought I should have finished 'em off.

It is now snake season in LaMancha.  Temps got up into the 90's this past weekend, so they're out in full force.  I sensed one moving in the grass while I was watering the garden on Saturday, on Sunday I saw another in the road and now on Monday the visitor at the neighbor's.  And it's not even summer yet.

In Spanish, these snakes are known as culebras bastardas (yes, you know that translation, don't you?), or Malpolon monspessulanus.  They are venomous, although their venom is only strong enough to stun small animals, and they can get big, real big, like 7-to-8-feet-long big.  And the big ones are tough as nails.  I've driven over a 4" thick one with my minivan (at night - didn't see him until I was on top of him) with all four wheels, then stopped the car and saw him slither away through my rear-view mirror.  I have even seen them jump in the air and climb the side of a brick house.  Nevertheless, what I have never seen them do is attack when unprovoked.  They literally just go off in the other direction.

Of course, that doesn't mean that the first time I came across a baby bastarda in my garden I didn't grab my cell phone with my left hand and a shovel in my right hand, crying to my husband on the phone that there was a baby snake in the yard and all I could think of was, "Where's Momma?!!"   For days, I was leery of letting my kids play out in the yard, believing that she was lurking in some corner, waiting to strike like the cobra from Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.  And, one day, I did come up against her.  And I didn't have my cell phone.  And I didn't have a shovel in my hand.  Actually, I didn't even have a breath in my body because I just went numb.  So, what did BIG Momma bastarda do?  She just went the other way (actually, she jumped a good 18 inches into the air, but she did go backwards).

I don't know if it is common in Spain or LaMancha in general, but in my village the norm is that if you find a snake, you kill it.  Bastardas eat baby rabbits, hares and partridges, and I'm sure they wouldn't turn their nose up at the offerings from a chicken coop.  So, it is understandable that in a farming and small-game hunting community, these snakes are the devil incarnate.  But, I myself don't keep chickens, nor do I hunt, and if there are a few less tick-bearing, rose-bush-eating, vegetable-garden-digging rabbits and partridges in my yard, then hooray!  Oh, and can we talk field mice, like the ones nesting in my basement and garage, nibbling on my hand-made almond soap to oblivion?  Less would definitely be more.  And let's not forget the bastardas natural predators: my friends, the eagles who live outside my living room window.

So, I may just be acting like "that crazy American woman" once again by not killing my neighbor's snake.  I could care less about what she may think.  What I do know is that yesterday I taught a little 6-year-old girl and a 4-year-old boy how to get a snake out of their yard by dragging a metal rod on the ground and by stomping like an elephant.  And they didn't have to kill it.

Just call me the snake charmer.  Or the subversive teacher.  (oh no! another hat!)       

miércoles, 15 de mayo de 2013

The British are coming! (Bloom Day, 5-13)

I grew up in the Boston area, the birthplace of the American Revolution, and every time my English roses start to bloom, I get this Paul-Revere-ish urge to run through the hillsides shouting "The British are coming!".  Funny what a good-looking rose can do to you (or me at least).

First up is Golden Celebration, my favorite yellow rose.

Golden Celebration

Winchester Cathedral was my first English rose to bloom this year.  It's a funny one, though.  Not only does it tend to put out splashes of bright pink and bi-colored roses, but this year it even gave me some bi-colored leaves. 

Winchester Cathedral

Winchester Cathedral 

Pat Austin has a hard time keeping her head up.

The colossal roses of Abraham Darby 

Abraham Darby with sage and thyme
My other English roses are somewhat slower, but I have some antiques and moderns that keep things interesting. 

 Majalis plena, a gift from a fellow Infogarden member (danke, Andy!), dates from before 1583.

Lady Banks

Mme. Alfred Carrière

Mme. Alfred Carrière, a good 6 feet tall in its second year, is fast becoming one of my favorite roses.

Pierre de Ronsard is slowly waking up.


La Sevillana

Well, that's more than enough for today.  If you leave me a message, next time I might tell you my secrets for having such healthy roses...

Si me dejáis algún mensajito, a lo mejor os revelo mis secretos para tener las rosas tan sanas...

viernes, 10 de mayo de 2013

I did it my way...

Yes, start spreading the news!  And no, I'm not going to New York.  I have been doing things my way, but apparently my way is the wrong way.  Oh, Frank Sinatra, where art thou?

Have you ever had one of those days when everybody and his/her brother seems to be criticizing you?  Today is one of those days, and it's still only 10:30am, so things are bound to only get worse.  Yes, supposedly the amended soil I've been using is no good for vegetables (what?), I have to plant that hazelnut bush TODAY or it will die (it's only been there in a pot for 6 years...), and I most definitely should NOT be planting a fir tree there because it will get too big, messy, etc.  Yes, family members, neighbors and even passing municipal maintenance workers are all getting in on the fun and telling me how ridiculously wrong I am doing just about everything, because evidently, folks, this crazy American don't know sh**!

Good thing my husband is keeping his mouth shut.

miércoles, 8 de mayo de 2013

Spanish lavender and wildflowers

May is the time for Spanish lavender to bloom (lavandula stoechas), but you have to know where to look for it.  It loves growing near rocks, on rocky slopes, or even in the cracks of rock formations themselves.  It can survive in the poorest soil imaginable, and thrive!

  Here is lavandula stoechas in its natural habitat on a craggy incline behind our property.  The tall grasses are esparto, which are used in basket-weaving and to make the soles of espadrilles. 

Here is a plant next to a dirt road that seems to have been pruned into a topiary shape
by passing off-road vehicles.

Don't these little guys remind you of the Easter Bunny?
The first (and smallest) of the Spanish thistles are in bloom.
And just when you think that all of LaMancha's wildflowers are purple...
... you look up to find yourself in a sea of yellow.


lunes, 6 de mayo de 2013

Mi casa

We did it!  After two years, we've finally done it: we've hung up our house number!  Yes, delivery men from all across La Mancha are rejoicing because that crazy American lady with that loco name has finally put a number on her house (although I do have to laugh - they now know me so well that I probably don't even need a house number anymore!).

Isn't it pretty?  We haven't hung up the wrought-iron lantern above it yet (the wall still hasn't been wired), but you get the idea.  During the winter, I planted wild mountain thyme and lavender (sounds like a Rosamunde Pilcher novel) in front, which will slowly fill in.  Best part is that they don't need watering because they're native.  And when I say native, I mean dug up from my backyard!

As you can see, things are slowly getting done... poquito a poco.

Now it's time to give credit where credit is due: if you are looking for a handmade tile house number, this one is from Cerámica Verónica (house number tiles), located in Cádiz.

And now that the wall is done, it looks like at least someone likes it!
Podarcis hispanica

viernes, 3 de mayo de 2013

Oh, go fly a kite!

It was one of those beautiful but blustery spring days, and I was out pulling weeds.  Youngest Son came to say that he was bored, so I asked him if he wanted to help me pull weeds.  Obviously, that was not part of his Wii-besotten mind's agenda, so he just kept complaining.  Then it dawned on me: "It's such a windy day, why don't you go fly a kite?"  Surprisingly enough, he did!  The next thing I new, the three men in my tribe were out with kites, and even the dog was getting in on the act.

And they weren't the only ones who thought it was a great day for flying...

jueves, 25 de abril de 2013

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus!

If you are not American, you may not be familiar with the famous letter of 8-year-old Virginia who wrote a letter to the editor of The Sun newspaper in 1897 asking whether there was a Santa Claus.  And the Editor's reply?  A resounding "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus."

What neither I nor Virginia had never known was that Santa Claus lives in Tarragona, Spain!  Yes, it's true, and I have proof:

Who else but Santa could have sent me such a lovely package?

 The only thing it was missing was a big, red bow!
All organized with plant name markers and seed envelopes.
Thank you, thank you Santa!

lunes, 15 de abril de 2013

Bloom Day, April 2013

Apparently, on the 15th of each month, many gardening bloggers publish photos of what plants are in bloom in their gardens on that specific day, known as Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day.  While I do not consider myself strictly a garden blogger (more like a garden don't-I-wisher), I find it interesting to compare what's blooming here in La Mancha compared to, say, Texas or Sweden.

Here's what's happening in my garden today:

Lavandula stoechas   

Lavender is one of my favorite spring-time flowers because of it's color, shape, disease-resistance and scented leaves.  Today, however, the wild Spanish lavender is still not in bloom, but this garden-center variety is really spectacular.  I love the transparency of the upper crown of petals.


The daffodils are doing very well this year since we've had so much rain.  I have no idea what varieties these are, but the ones in the bottom photo are minis.  You can see they are smaller than a salvia bud.

   My pear tree.  I planted this 7 years ago and we've only gotten 3 pears out of it.  Our hot summer winds seem to dry the fruit up, but I don't have the heart to cut it down... yet.   

Remember the raspberry-pink buds on the Tinus?  Well, now they've open to tiny white flowers.

On the kitchen porch, there's a mixed pot with snapdragons and purple freesia in bloom.
 Brassica napus and Anchusa
... and the rest of my garden is run amuck with, um, wildflowers.

domingo, 31 de marzo de 2013

Happy Easter!

Although it is not a Spanish tradition, my kids paint Easter eggs every year, and the Easter Bunny somehow does manage to find us.
Did you know that the word Hispania, which is what the Romans called Spain, is derived from a Phoenician word meaning "land of rabbits".  In La Mancha, they're everywhere!

They keep Luna entertained, but she's afraid to go after them because they're as big as she is!
My garden is slowly awakening.  Luckily, the rabbits don't like eating daffodils....
 ...nor do they care for iris.
The rabbits are also completely oblivious to weeds (I mean, wildflowers).
Most likely, many of you back home will be having a ham for Easter dinner.  Here in this little corner of pork-loving Spain, we usually have a cookout down by the reservoir...
  with seafood paella for 50 people!
 Happy Easter!